The Concept of Saving Face is Annoying

I’m Taiwanese-American, raised and currently living in the States, and a lot of the behavior of my parents and their peers had always puzzled and even annoyed me. All the compliment giving, my mother loudly refusing red envelopes from my uncle on my behalf (I really wanted that dough…), being angry at me for trying to have an intellectual discussion about the fallacies in the Yiguandao beliefs I was raised in (they easily get offended when I directly criticize them… I always have to put it nicely), making sweeping generalizations of groups of people without knowing them, talking about their friends’ children’s accomplishments and stacking mine up against them… the lists goes on and on.

Then I read a series of articles regarding the concept of face, guanxi and the like, and that completely demystified my parents’ seemingly strange behavior. But then I realized that many, if not most Chinese people are stuck in a state of groupthink, obsessesed with protecting the collective honor of their families, social circles and themselves, doing whatever to kiss ass to those in authority and power to better their own social standings… and they just seem to refuse to think for themselves.

Westerners tend to live by treating others the way they themselves want to be treated, so you see a lot of smiling at strangers, casual small talk, and being able to take jokes in most situations. I like that about mainstream American culture. I’m just worried that if I ever move back to Taiwan for whatever reason (I was born there and moved to Texas when I was three), I’d be spending half my time trying to think up ways to not offend people and kiss ass. And I would be hard pressed to have thought provoking conversation before being shot down as “thinking too much”.

For those currently residing in Taiwan, is the face saving culture still ingrained in Taiwanese society nowadays, or is it more Westernized now? How is it among young people? Any experiences, weird or not, regarding trying to wade through the local social norms without trying to rub anybody the wrong way?

Its the reason nothing ever changes, and no one every learns from their mistakes.

And when there is change, it’s because that’s what the people as a whole think is the trendy thing to do. I don’t know how a free thinking Taiwanese society can come about with these norms in place, and I don’t think they’ll be receptive of us outsiders telling them how they should run their society. The whole ingroup and outgroup thing. If you don’t hold an opinion that a majority of people a certain person cares about hold, don’t thinking about changing that person’s mind about anything.

It’s not like you could tell your local friend to tell his people that something’s wrong with them lol. I got the vibe he’ll feel compelled as a Taiwanese to defend his people’s ways and their collective honor that you as a outsider is trying to “attack”… even if you think you’re just giving mere advice to make the people happier. Genuinely happier.

Yep, they don’t like outsiders rolling in with their suggestions, we are Taiwanese, if you don’t like it leave is the most common response (never mind they usually don’t like it either :slight_smile:).

The younger generation is not much different than their parents, and parents control most of the money and major decisions still, so I would honestly say Taiwan may not be the place for you. You will not have many stimulating conversations where people open up about their real feelings.

Many people have never actually learned to give their own opinion, that sounds bizarre and racist, but it is true!

This is without even mentioning working here, which can suck for many other reasons.

Well I’m not really clear about the whole present situation in Taiwan, since I’m basing my observations off parents and family friends who are all immigrants. The whole “horde mentality” even rubs off on some of their children, who otherwise from speaking flawless English tend to crowd around their mostly Asian friends, obsess about Pokemon and anime and are obnoxious to those who they think aren’t “Asian enough” just because one doesn’t obsess about their own GPA and hang with only Asian crowds.

Well your observations are correct. If you think they are group obsessed please come to Taiwan and check out the young folk here, it takes them 20 minutes every lunch hour just to decide on a restaurant that is acceptable, then everybody slowly shuffles together to go to the restaurant in unison.

There are all types though I guess if you look around you might be able to meet some more free thinking people.

[quote=“headhonchoII”]Yep, they don’t like outsiders rolling in with their suggestions, we are Taiwanese, if you don’t like it leave is the most common response (never mind they usually don’t like it either :slight_smile:).

The younger generation is not much different than their parents, and parents control most of the money and major decisions still, so I would honestly say Taiwan may not be the place for you. You will not have many stimulating conversations where people open up about their real feelings.

Many people have never actually learned to give their own opinion, that sounds bizarre and racist, but it is true!

This is without even mentioning working here, which can suck for many other reasons.[/quote]

Hahaha I’m glad I was raised in good ole 'Merica… that might come off as a little bit condenscending to my cousins back on the island :laughing:

Funny things is, when I encounter “fobs” from the mainland or Taiwan I immediately begin to play the whole “mianzi” game… a very cynical attempt to experience the culture of my forebears I admit :astonished: The whole giving empty compliments, avoiding controversial topics, lots of clenched smiling… it all feels so fake and not to mention exhausting :neutral:

Just curious. Does this also apply in Japan? I’ve heard they’re pretty anal about facesaving there too. Excuse me for being an ignorant Asian-American :stuck_out_tongue: Though I do speak Mandarin and Taiwanese decently btw :slight_smile:

[quote=“headhonchoII”]Well your observations are correct. If you think they are group obsessed please come to Taiwan and check out the young folk here, it takes them 20 minutes every lunch hour just to decide on a restaurant that is acceptable, then everybody slowly shuffles together to go to the restaurant in unison.

There are all types though I guess if you look around you might be able to meet some more free thinking people.[/quote]

Yeesh. Ironically I’m not the biggest fan of hanging out in groups, even here in America. I’ll admit I’m kinda introverted and enjoy long intervals of “me time” :slight_smile:
I’ve never really experienced Taiwan on my own terms though. Previous trips were with my parents and we would only visit relatives and family friends, and whenever we would go out into the market, it was with parental supervision about where to go and what to see. No real interaction with the locals on my own part. I remember my mom (she’s super chatty) would strike up conversations with some 小吃 owners and then draw attention to my brothers and I… look at them ABC’s!! …after my own efforts to blend in with the local populace to not draw stares.

Not to mention, during my last trip to Taiwan, apparently it was agreed upon by the locals that I resembled Jeremy Lin. So my grandpa got caught up on that hype. He’d take me out to breakfast, talk to his old pals, and then mention to them that his grandson looks just like Taiwan’s favorite son. And then they would exclaim in agreement.

The Chinese are the Borg, with a huge hive mind and no individuality.

My experience (a single summer) in Japan was that they were even more so. They were super polite in every situation and also cold and un-genuine. Of course it all varies wildly with individuals; I had one long train ride in Japan next to a grandma that was loads of fun. We each understood just a few words of the other’s language, but made use of it along with gestures, drawing, and pictures; became good pals.

Be careful about generalizing, as all of this depends on the individual. A healthy percentage of Taiwanese I know will change their behavior in certain situations to get along, but are very much individuals in their thinking and lifestyle. Many are quite outspoken with friends and coworkers. Not surprisingly, most of them are under 40 years of age.

i have my specific issues with face, but you are being immature about the hongbao from your uncle. You do realise it works on a principle of reciprocity, right? if uncle gives you something, then it’s incumbent on your parents to give something back equivalent, otherwise there is debt. you wanting that “dough” shows you don’t understand how life works (west or east).

/keeping it real lol

[quote=“Jack Burton”]I have my specific issues with face, but you are being immature about the hongbao from your uncle. You do realise it works on a principle of reciprocity, right? if uncle gives you something, then it’s incumbent on your parents to give something back equivalent, otherwise there is debt. you wanting that “dough” shows you don’t understand how life works (west or east).

/keeping it real lol[/quote]

amen.

actually, for not wanting to take the hongbao at all shows parents aren’t that old fashioned.

my parents would instruction to take it, and then walk into somewhere private to take the money out of the hongbao, and put into new hongbao to give it back to the giver’s children.

[quote=“Jack Burton”]I have my specific issues with face, but you are being immature about the hongbao from your uncle. You do realise it works on a principle of reciprocity, right? if uncle gives you something, then it’s incumbent on your parents to give something back equivalent, otherwise there is debt. you wanting that “dough” shows you don’t understand how life works (west or east).

/keeping it real lol[/quote]

We got roped into a group lunch at a restaurant the other day. We didn’t really know the host. Afterwards, my wife said had she known in advance she wouldn’t have put us in a position to get treated for the meal. I asked why and she said we now owe the host and his friends, and she doesn’t really know them. On the way out, in fact, the host casually asked if he can call on her if someone he knows is interested in working in her company.

That’s funny…I get asked (privately) to “verify” crappy engrish all the time and the people who ask never seem to think they owe me. Quite the contrary!

How do we know if someone here is doing something for altruistic reasons?

[quote=“formosaobama”]
We got roped into a group lunch at a restaurant the other day. We didn’t really know the host. Afterwards, my wife said had she known in advance she wouldn’t have put us in a position to get treated for the meal. I asked why and she said we now owe the host and his friends, and she doesn’t really know them. On the way out, in fact, the host casually asked if he can call on her if someone he knows is interested in working in her company.

That’s funny…I get asked (privately) to “verify” crappy engrish all the time and the people who ask never seem to think they owe me. Quite the contrary!

How do we know if someone here is doing something for altruistic reasons?[/quote]

The difference here is one costs money, one doesn’t. People here don’t seem to me to do the “time=money” calculus as is done in the West.

I don’t know how you tell :slight_smile:

That’s because everyone thinks you’re a magical English machine that can diagnose at a problem-ridden page and fix it in less time than it would take to say no. From that perspective it’s pretty flattering, isn’t it?

My personal philosophy: Never do anything for free.

[quote=“formosaobama”]

How do we know if someone here is doing something for altruistic reasons?[/quote]

At the risk of sounding very negative, I don’t think that genuine altruistic behaviour is all that common, even if it appears to be on the outside. Not that it doesn’t exist; it is simply rare.

As one Taiwanese friend explained to me, doing something nice for someone is like making a deposit into a bank account that gives you back interest. You do something nice/generous because you know that you will get something better back in return (your deposit plus interest), so it is worth their while.

I am deeply happy to see how Forumosa keeps reinforcing the views and opinions I’ve come to form over four years in Taiwan, showing me those are not coming from my own distorted PoV and faulty brain, but rather from the real situation out there, clear for everyone to see.

I think all of the horde mentality, doing things with “strings-attached” and ass kissing behavior were originally mechanisms to survive in ancient China, when times could be pretty hard and the wrong move could have your entire clan exterminated. Good times. Plus the Confucian ideas of everybody being in their place in society and acting appropriately… hence the offense taken if you step out of your role as a subordinate to give your superior some feedback.

And because everyone in society is in on the culture, everyone’s judging. I guess that is an incentive to try to make your position (and face) appear as good as possible, and that would pressure you to push your subordinates (ie. children) to make you look good in the eyes of your peers. Hence the studying (thanks Confucius) to make better grades than the next guy, so you could have a chance at being a bigshot in society, as well as giving your parents bragging rights. I’d hate to be raised in such a society :frowning: You could try the “I don’t give a flying shit about what any of y’all think, cuz I’ma do me” attitude, but that’d just make the people you associate with look bad, and you’d be shunned. Like wtf.

I remember when I was little, my little brother, who was far from the academic type (still isn’t), was making terrible grades (in the Western sense, not the “A- ?! You’re a disgrace” sense). There was no way in hell that kid was going to make straight B’s, forget straight A’s, but my mom kept using the line “You’re going to make grandpa sad because he’s going to be embarrassed around his friends.” Not that it worked… but I was so tempted to tell my mom to tell granddad not to give an rat’s ass about what his buddies thought. Not feasible in this culture though, sigh.

I’ll admit that I still have portions of the mentality ingrained in me, ie. being shy around non Asians, not speaking up when in a group discussion because I’ve been trained to sit and just listen as a kid, being confused about how to react when people thank me, nodding my head in agreement with people I feel are in a superior position to me even if I disagree… but trying to change. You can’t really truly succeed in the U.S. unless you can act and think American to maximize the experience of living here. Not that I’m giving up my heritage, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Great thing is people here don’t explicitly judge you unless they’re being douches, so it’s definitely a breath of fresh air compared to the homeland. Maybe I’ll date a white girl one day :slight_smile: Or a girl of any color :sunglasses: I’ll be cool with another Asian chick too. I refuse to be self loathing.